State read­ies open­ing rules for wor­ship

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Alexei Kos­eff

SACRA­MENTO — Cal­i­for­nia will is­sue coron­avirus safety guide­lines for re­li­gious gath­er­ings by Mon­day, Gov. Gavin New­som said hours af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump de­clared houses of wor­ship “es­sen­tial” and called on states to al­low them to re­open this week­end.

New­som has be­gun in re­cent weeks to re­lax his statewide stay­at­home or­der and al­low Cal­i­for­ni­ans to re­sume pub­lic life, but faith groups have not yet been granted per­mis­sion to ac­cept con­gre­gants back for wor­ship.

Re­li­gious ser­vices are still pro­hib­ited in Cal­i­for­nia this week­end, part of a broader

lim­i­ta­tion on mass gath­er­ings dur­ing the coron­avirus pan­demic. New­som in­di­cated Fri­day that a blan­ket ban for in­per­son wor­ship might be eased soon, though he did not spec­ify when.

“We deeply re­spect and admire the faith, the de­vo­tion and the cause that unites mil­lions and mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans,” New­som said at a news con­fer­ence in Yountville. “At a time of so much anx­i­ety and uncer­tainty, faith and that de­vo­tion to some­thing higher, bet­ter and big­ger than your­self be­comes even more pro­nounced and more pro­found and more im­por­tant.”

The gover­nor has ex­pressed con­cern about the po­ten­tial spread of the virus among “con­gre­ga­tions of peo­ple mix­ing from far and wide, com­ing to­gether prox­i­mate in closed space at large scales.”

Butte County of­fi­cials said last week that more than 180 peo­ple were ex­posed to the coron­avirus af­ter they at­tended an unau­tho­rized Mother’s

Day church ser­vice with an asymp­to­matic car­rier. An early out­break in Sacra­mento County was linked to fel­low­ship meet­ings held by dozens of mem­bers of a church.

Even as many coun­ties have re­ceived per­mis­sion to start wel­com­ing din­ers back to restau­rants and shop­pers back to stores, churches, mosques, syn­a­gogues and other places of wor­ship are barred from hold­ing ser­vices. Ear­lier this week, New­som said it could be sev­eral weeks be­fore the ban is lifted.

But Cal­i­for­nia is un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure to let ser­vices re­sume. While fed­eral courts have blocked sev­eral law­suits seek­ing to end the ban im­me­di­ately, the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment warned the state this week that its pol­icy amounted to re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion and it must ease re­stric­tions to en­able ser­vices to take place with proper safety pro­to­cols.

A group of Chris­tian pas­tors, known as Church United, has also promised to defy New­som to hold ser­vices on May 31, the feast of the Pen­te­cost. The group said it ex­pects thou­sands of churches across the state to join.

Trump ramped up the stakes Fri­day when he told re­porters that he was declar­ing re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions as “es­sen­tial places that pro­vide es­sen­tial ser­vices.”

He said he would “over­ride” any gov­er­nors who did not abide by his re­quest to let houses of wor­ship re­open. The White House did not ex­plain what au­thor­ity Trump would in­voke to is­sue any such or­der.

“Some gov­er­nors have deemed liquor stores and abor­tion clin­ics as es­sen­tial,” but not churches, Trump said. “It’s not right. So I’m cor­rect­ing this in­jus­tice and call­ing houses of wor­ship es­sen­tial.”

At his news con­fer­ence,

New­som gave no in­di­ca­tion when re­li­gious ser­vices could ac­tu­ally re­sume.

“We’ve been en­gag­ing the faith com­mu­nity. We look for­ward to churches re­open­ing in a safe and re­spon­si­ble man­ner,” New­som said.

The fed­eral Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion re­leased new guide­lines for re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions Fri­day that in­clude tak­ing steps to limit the size of gath­er­ings and con­sid­er­ing hold­ing ser­vices out­doors or in large, well­ven­ti­lated ar­eas.

New­som said he would re­view those rec­om­men­da­tions as the state fi­nal­izes its own rules. He said his ad­min­is­tra­tion has been “ag­gres­sive in try­ing to put to­gether guide­lines that will do jus­tice to peo­ple’s health and their fun­da­men­tal need and de­sire to prac­tice their faith.”

“We churches look re­open­ing for­ward to in a safe and re­spon­si­ble man­ner.”

Gov. Gavin New­som

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